You know Chick tracts, those small Christian cartoon pamphlets used to evangelize? One pamphlet tells the story of a gallant Christian student who stands up for Christian truth in a classroom run by a dictatorial atheist. My summary is here. That tract might as well have been the first draft of the screenplay for God’s Not Dead.
The first thing to get past in this movie is that real-world plausibility is out the window. In this world, philosophy professors can bully a Christian student to renounce his faith without consequences, then demand that the student debate him in front of the class and put a large fraction of that student’s grade on the outcome.
Show me such a situation, and I’ll show you a professor who is in trouble with the college administration. Not only is that unethical, it is crying out for a lawsuit. Every atheist I know would be allied with the Christians to say that that’s way out of bounds.
Sure, Christian students can have their beliefs challenged when they go to college. I see no problem with that. But school-sanctioned humiliation of Christians doesn’t happen in the real world. Despite the long list of court cases at the end, I’ve yet to see one real example. This is simply Christians’ David and Goliath fantasy.
Let’s step through the main points of the movie.
Atheist journalist gets cancer
A liberal atheist journalist discovers that she has cancer, and as a result she’s immediately dumped by her rich go-getter boyfriend. Then we see her talking with the doctor about her MRI results. The doctor asks if she has anyone that she’d like to be there with her. But no, she has no one. She’s alone and afraid.
At the end, she barges in on the Christian rock group about to play at a concert (that’s her journalistic style), and we realize that God pushed her to do that. Then they have a good pray.
But there was no mention of the helpful elephant in the room: science. That is, medicine, MRIs, surgery, chemotherapy, and all that. Yes, that’s coldly clinical, and a warm and loving friend would be a comfort, but science is the only thing that will actually, y’know, do anything about the problem. Even the prayer at the end was intended to do nothing more than encourage God to support her through the treatment.
Ayisha wears a niqab so that only her eyes are showing, or at least she does until her father drives away. You see, she’s become a Christian in the previous year. When her father finds out, he beats her and throws her out of the house. He’s torn apart by his misguided devotion to a ridiculous faith, and he collapses in tears.
Yes, that happens. Yes, it’s tragic. But why show it happening in a Muslim family when there are so many more Christian families in America broken up over religion? If the point is that religion can make you do crazy things, a Christian example would be far more relevant.
There are other subplots to critique (and if you want more of a plot summary, I recommend the Geek Goes Rogue review), but I’d rather focus on the apologetics arguments. I’ll use David to refer to our plucky student and Goliath to refer to the dictatorial professor.
No one can prove God? Well, no one can disprove God, either! True, but that’s not how we make conclusions. We don’t believe in Bigfoot or unicorns because their nonexistence hasn’t been proven; rather, we follow the evidence. The evidence points to no Bigfoot, no unicorns, and no God. Let’s be open-minded enough to consider new contradicting evidence if it comes in, but for now, we have no justification for belief.
You want an explanation for the Big Bang? Look to Genesis: “Let there be light.” (Despite being unprepared for this challenge, David has unaccountably awesome presentations.) No new science has come from the Bible. You can try to show that, now that we know how things work thanks to science, the Bible was sort of pointing in the right direction (it wasn’t), but let’s not pretend that the truth was right there in the Bible all along.
There’s nothing embarrassing or unreasonable in science saying, “We don’t know.” That’s how we focus on new questions to answer. Science not knowing something gives no grounds for the Christian to jump in and say, “But I do!!” Finally, note that any cosmological argument is a deist argument. Even if we accepted it, we’re a long way from Christianity.
Atheists ask, Who created God? but God was uncreated! Backatcha, atheists! You don’t respond to a scientific question with a theological claim. “My religion says that God was uncreated” is no answer in the real world.
“But who created God?” is a reasonable question. More here.
Both Christians and atheists must explain how the universe started. Wrong again. Science always has unanswered questions. That’s no evidence in favor of Christianity. Science has explained much in the real world; Christianity has explained nothing. Weigh the evidence and choose the best explanation.
What about the sudden arrival of animal species? The Bible nicely explains it: “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.” More theology in place of science. No, science doesn’t come from the Bible.
Note that Goliath made none of these rebuttals. He does little besides mock, and destroying David has become a personal mission. In one brief attempt at holding up his end of the debate, he quotes Stephen Hawking: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”
This is just an Argument from Authority. Hawking is a smart guy, but just because he said it doesn’t make it true. This is a data point, nothing more. But does David point this out? Nope, since he wants to respond with his own Argument from Authority by bringing up John Lennox. (I’ve responded to Lennox’s embarrassingly shallow apologetics here.)
In the end, David hammers Goliath with, “Why do you hate God?” And then it comes out, in front of his class: it’s because God killed his mother. As a 12-year-old, little Goliath had prayed to God to cure his mother’s cancer. God didn’t, and he’s held a grudge ever since. So, it turns out that Goliath actually does believe; he’s just mad at God.
The students then stand, one by one, to render their unanimous verdict: “God’s not dead.” The professor walks out, humiliated.
Marketing God? Or marketing the movie?
Our Christians celebrate at the concert at the end. David’s noble battle is publicly acknowledged, and everyone at the concert is encouraged to text “God’s Not Dead” to all their friends. (Wait a minute—isn’t that also the name of a Christian movie?) And, of course, we in the real audience are next encouraged to tell all our friends that “God’s Not Dead.”
If the flabby arguments in the movie are any evidence, however, there is scant reason to think so. This movie is nothing but persecution porn.
The Almighty deserves better advocacy
than he gets in this typically ham-fisted
Christian campus melodrama.
— Scott Foundas critique of the movie in Variety
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 3/25/14.)